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8 - Slavery in Early Modern China

from PART II - SLAVERY IN ASIA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2011

Pamela Kyle Crossley
Affiliation:
Dartmouth College
David Eltis
Affiliation:
Emory University, Atlanta
Stanley L. Engerman
Affiliation:
University of Rochester, New York
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Summary

China's social history offers vivid confirmation of the insights of David Brion Davis, Orlando Patterson, Eric Foner, and others that the existence of an ancient, stable, conceptually absolute institution of “slavery” is a powerful impetus to the production of an equally absolute conception of “freedom.” Although a wide spectrum of unfree labor, dependency, and coercion is discernible in Asian history generally and in China particularly, there is no precise parallel to the Roman legal construction of slavery. In China the absolute legal definition of slave status, or the associations with race and culture that might have inspired an equally absolute ideal of personal or national freedom, never emerged. On the other hand, influence of Roman legal dichotomies of slave and free in the shaping of European and American scholarship on coercion need not so obscure our view of other traditions that slavery is not plainly visible to the modern eye. The cognates of many forms of European slavery persisted in China for millennia. They left a wide trail in law and in the popular lexicon. They also supplied a dimension to modern notions of ethnic identity.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, China was conquered and then governed by the Qing Empire, which survived until 1912. The empire was initiated in 1636, at what is now the city of Shenyang in the province of Liaoning, but at the time was territory wrested from Ming China by the founders of the early Qing Empire.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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